After more than five months of political negotiations, Iraq's parliament approved a government of national unity Saturday, in a move many hope will help reduce violence and restore stability to the country.
In a nationally televised ceremony from inside Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his 37 Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab ministers took their oaths of office.
Several of the top posts, including oil, trade and finance went to Shi'ites. The country's Kurds held on to the Foreign Ministry, while a Sunni Arab will head the Justice Ministry. At least three of the ministers are women.
But three key posts - interior, defense and national security - were filled with only temporary appointments, after negotiations failed to yield consensus on candidates. Filling these posts is seen as critical to reining in insurgents and the spread of sectarian violence.
Prime Minister al-Maliki told parliament he would make restoring security and stability his top priority. He said his government would expand national dialogue among Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups in the spirit of reconciliation. He said the government would work to integrate militias into the official security forces, and he set as a goal establishing a timetable for Iraq's security forces to assume full control, so coalition forces could leave Iraq.
After the ceremony, Mr. al-Maliki told reporters that the Iraqi nation had sacrificed too much, and is still suffering killing, terrorism and suppression. At least two dozen Iraqis were reported killed in new violence Saturday. At least 19 died in a bomb blast in the Shi'ite district of Sadr City in the capital. In the western town of Qaim, near the Syrian border, five policemen were killed and 10 others wounded in a suicide bombing.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, welcomed the inauguration of the new government, saying it provides "a strong foundation for progress in Iraq." He said there would be challenges ahead, but he pledged the United States would work with the new government to bring security and economic prosperity to the country.
Iraqi reaction to the new Cabinet was mixed.
One man said that he welcomed the new government as a positive step, adding that the distribution of ministerial posts among Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs was mostly fair. However, he says nothing has changed, and if the government really wants change, it must do more for the people.